Obama interacts with Cuban blogger

Havana, Nov 20 (EFE) US President Barack Omaba has assured Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez that Washington wants to see “increased respect for human rights and for political and economic freedoms” on the communist-ruled island, the blogger has said.

In response to a written questionnaire Sanchez sent him, the US leader also said that he is in favour of direct dialogue with the government led by Gen. Raul Castro, but only under the right conditions.

“For years, I have said that it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, without preconditions, with friends and foes alike. I am not interested, however, in talking for the sake of talking,” Obama said, adding that “in the case of Cuba, such diplomacy should create opportunities to advance the interests of the United States and the cause of freedom for the Cuban people”.

Obama did not rule out a trip to Cuba, but only when the rights situation on the island would make it feasible.

“I would never rule out a course of action that could advance the interests of the United States and advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people,” he told Sanchez.

“At the same time, diplomatic tools should only be used after careful preparation and as part of a clear strategy.”

“I look forward to visit a Cuba in which all citizens enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other citizens in the hemisphere,” the president said.

Obama told Sanchez that his administration is ready to “engage with the Cuban government on a range of issues of mutual interest as we have already done in the migration and direct mail talks”.

“It is also my intent to facilitate greater contact with the Cuban people, especially among divided Cuban families, which I have done by removing US restrictions on family visits and remittances,” he said.

Asked whether Washington has renounced the use of force to settle the dispute with Havana, Obama said flatly: “The United States has no intention of using military force in Cuba.”

“Only the Cuban people can bring about positive change in Cuba and it is our hope that they will soon be able to exercise their full potential,” he added.

“We have already initiated a dialogue on areas of mutual concern – safe, legal, and orderly migration, and re-establishing direct mail service,” the president said.

“Achieving a more normal relationship, however, will require action by the Cuban government.”

Obama also took the opportunity to congratulate Sanchez for receiving the Maria Moore Cabot Prize award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, while expressing disappointment that the Cuban government would not allow her to travel to New York for the ceremony.